Proton therapy, sometimes called proton radiation therapy or proton beam therapy, is an advanced type of radiation therapy that concentrates high-energy protons into tumors or other targets, such as tumor beds after surgery, with high precision. The technology allows physicians to reduce radiation dose (by up to 60%) to nearby healthy tissue and this can result in less damage and side effects. Patients receiving proton therapy may also benefit from improved tumor control.
Proton therapy is different than conventional radiation therapy, which uses photons (also known as X-rays) that enter and exit through the body and thus can affect the normal tissue surrounding a treatment target. With proton therapy, special machines, commonly cyclotrons or synchrotrons, accelerate protons and use magnetic fields to direct just the right amount of radiation to the tumor/target's precise location, without any exit dose beyond the tumor/target.
Your Mass General Brigham cancer care team is uniquely qualified to help you determine whether the powerful benefits of proton therapy make it a good option for you. It may be if your tumor hasn't spread or if it is near crucial body functions, such as the brain, spinal cord or eyes. In some cases, patients may receive both proton and photon therapy. Our physicians are well-equipped to determine the appropriate combination that is optimal for your individual treatment.
Cancers in children are commonly treated with proton therapy due to their sensitivity to even low doses of radiation, which can affect growth and development. Mass General Brigham hosts the first proton center in the United States that offered proton radiotherapy for the pediatric population. Today, our program is one of the world's largest and an international referral center for pediatric radiation oncology.
Our pediatric radiation oncologists work closely with other specialists in pediatric oncology, pediatric surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, pediatric neuroradiology, pediatric neurology, pediatric anesthesia, pediatric rehabilitation, pediatric nursing, social work, child life and other support staff to provide expert, comprehensive and compassionate family-centered care.
Common conditions treated with proton therapy include:
Through clinical trials available at Mass General Brigham, you may gain access to emerging proton therapy treatments and can help establish new standards of care for future patients.
Ongoing trials at Mass General Brigham are examining the effectiveness of proton therapy vs. photon therapy for patients with breast cancer, low- to intermediate-grade gliomas, liver cancer, prostate cancer, and head and neck cancer. Another trial is studying the new application of proton therapy for high-grade meningiomas. Several active proton therapy clinical trials are also available for children with cancer.
Each year, thousands of patients from more than 140 countries travel to Mass General Brigham for medical care, second opinions and treatments unavailable anywhere else in the world.
Mass General Brigham is experienced in caring for proton patients who are traveling great distances to our hospitals in Boston. Your cancer team here and our international patient services team will help you prepare for and plan the appropriate amount of time to stay in Boston for your appointments, treatments and any recovery time. During this recovery time in Boston or back home in your country, our clinical team will monitor your well-being and progressions to continuously optimize your treatment plan and symptoms.
You can contact our International Patient Care Team with questions or for help in setting up an appointment with a Mass General Brigham physician who can discuss your treatment options and begin developing a comprehensive treatment plan. We look forward to making your Mass General Brigham experience as healing and stress-free as possible.